Planned layoffs at U.S. firms increased in July for the first time in six months, signaling more uneasy times for workers and a continued drag on consumer spending and the broader economy.

Planned job cuts announced by U.S. employers totaled 97,373 last month, up 31 percent from June when it had hit a 15-month low, according to a report released on Wednesday by global outplacement consultancy Challenger, Gray & Christmas, Inc.

July's announced job cuts brought the total so far this year to 994,048, 72 percent higher than the same span in 2008.

Transportation companies announced the most layoffs in July with 27,954. They were followed by the telecommunication sector that laid off 17,601 workers, Challenger said.

We are still a long way from a fully recovery, the firm's chief executive John Challenger said in a statement.

In fact, monthly job cuts will likely shoot above 100,000 again by the fourth quarter, he said.

While job prospects in the transportation and telecommunication industries worsened in July, layoffs in the battered auto sector slowed to 2,716, the lowest since June 2008, Challenger said.

So far in 2009, the auto industry has announced the most job cuts with 122,212, followed by the government sector which got rid of 109,433 jobs.

Declining layoffs in the automotive industry may not be indicative of a turnaround, Challenger said.

Auto and car-part makers may have slowed their job cuts in hopes of building more green cars, he said.

On Monday, data showed U.S. vehicle sales rose to the highest level of 2009 in July, as Americans scrambled to take advantage of the government's $1 billion Cash for Clunkers program.

(Reporting by Richard Leong, Editing by Chizu Nomiyama)